Gaza massacres (27 December 2008 – )

Gaza massacres (27 December 2008 – )

Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed and thousand more injured as Israel continues to assault the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza — the majority of them children and refugees — from the air, sea and sky.


On 27 December, Israel began its bombardment on Gaza and then on 3 January began its ground offensive. At the end of 8 January in Gaza, at least 763 Gazans had been killed, including more than 200 children, and more than 3,000 injured since 27 December, according to Al Jazeera.

Israel claims that it is targeting Hamas armed fighters and infrastructure, ostensibly in response to the firing of homemade rockets from Gaza into Israel. However, field investigations by the Gaza-based human rights organization Al Mezanshow that United Nations-administered schools, mosques, universities, emergency medical crews, private homes and other civilian objects have all been in Israel’s sights.

Among those killed on the first day of bombing, when more than 100 tons of bombs were dropped on the tiny coastal enclave, included police officers who were attending a graduation ceremony, school children heading home after a day of study, and other Gazans killed without warning as they were conducting their normal business.

Entire families have been wiped out during the air strikes and shelling, including that of Hamas leader Nizar Rayyan who was extrajudicially executed along with his family in their home in a Gaza refugee camp. More than 40 were killed on 6 January when Israeli forces shelled the United Nations-administered Fakhoura school in the Jabalia refugee camp, where families who had been displaced by the bombing were seeking shelter. The UN has demanded an independent investigation and its spokespersons assert that GPS coordinates of all UN locations were given to Israel to prevent such an atrocity. Israel recanted its claim that resistance fighters released fire on Israeli soldiers from the school, which has been categorically denied by UN officials.

The death toll will most likely rise as corpses are recovered from the rubble of destroyed buildings and the critically injured die of their wounds. The International Committee of the Red Cross has protested Israeli forces preventing them from evacuating casualties. Many will likely die because Gaza’s hospitals — already chronically short of medicines and supplies due to the Israeli siege — are unable to cope with the scale of the catastrophe. Medical workers face grave danger as they respond to the sites of Israeli strikes; according to the World Health Organization, as of 8 January, 21 medical workers had been killed and more than 30 injured since 27 December.

The bloody operation in Gaza comes after the expiration of a six-month-long ceasefire between Israel and resistance groups in Gaza, including Hamas. Israel had broken the ceasefire on 4 November, when it extrajudicially executed six Palestinians in Gaza whom it said was digging tunnels to Israel. During the five previous months of the ceasefire, Hamas had refrained from firing rockets and prevented other groups from doing so. However, Israel failed to ease the nearly two-year-long embargo on the Gaza Strip that has crippled economic life and brought the area to the brink of a humanitarian crisis — one of Israel’s obligations under the ceasefire.

Instead, in Israel, where the fate of the Gaza Strip has become part of politicking as the country gears up for an election, leaders blamed Hamas for the carnage and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cynically appealed, “to the people of Gaza, you are not our enemy.” While the other three members of the so-called International Quartet for Middle East Peace criticized what they called Israel’s “excessive” use of force, the US refrained from doing so. White House spokesperson Gordon Johndroe stated from Texas, where President George W. Bush was presently vacationing: “Hamas’ continued rocket attacks into Israel must cease if the violence is to stop.”

The ongoing assault on Gaza is the largest Israeli military operation in the territory occupied during the 1967 War. Although Israel unilaterally withdrew its illegal settler population from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it remained the occupying power as it controlled the borders, sea and airspace, as well as the population registry, and regularly carried out sonic booms over the area, terrorizing the population. Israeli forces have also frequently carried out extrajudicial executions of Palestinian activists in Gaza, killing scores of bystanders as well.

Gaza hospitals were unable to cope with the situation as Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip for a year and a half has prevented the importing of medical supplies and equipment. As the morgues filled to capacity, corpses lined the hallways of Gaza hospitals. Hospitals were forced to turn away many of the injured due to the lack of space and supplies.

The massive air strikes came after a food crisis broke out in Gaza, as Israel’s banning of imports into the Strip have depleted stocks of flour and cooking gas, causing some bakeries — the few still in operation — to resort to baking bread made out of animal feed. On 18 December, the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) was forced to stop its food aid delivery to 750,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip. Though it briefly resumed services in January 2009 after a “humanitarian corridor” was established, and a daily three-hour ceasefire was declared, the United Nations announced it was ceasing all services after Israeli forces targeted and killed a UN aid worker and wounded others on 8 January.

Israel’s measures of collective punishment on the Gaza Strip are resulting in “the breakdown of an entire society,” according to economist Sara Roy, who asks in a commentary published recently by The London Review of Books, “How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel?”

The devastating attack on Gaza was described as “willful killing” by leading Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations, and therefore constitute “a war crime.” The organizations stated: “Both the time and location of these attacks also indicate a malicious intent to inflict as many casualties as possible with many of the police stations located in civilian population centers and the time of the attacks coinciding with the end of the school day resulting in the deaths of numerous children.”

The assault was met with loud calls for a boycott of Israel, including a boycott appeal from by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, which stated on the day of the massacres: “Israel seems intent to mark the end of its 60th year of existence the same way it has established itself — perpetrating massacres against the Palestinian people. In 1948, the majority of the indigenous Palestinian people were ethnically cleansed from their homes and land, partly through massacres like Deir Yassin; today, the Palestinians in Gaza, most of whom are refugees, do not even have the choice to seek refuge elsewhere. Incarcerated behind ghetto walls and brought to the brink of starvation by the siege, they are easy targets for Israel’s indiscriminate bombing.”

And while government leaders and the US president-elect remain resoundingly silent over the ongoing massacres in Gaza (with the exception of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, which removed Israel’s ambassador from the country), millions of people around the world have taken to the streets to express their solidarity with Palestinians under siege. Analysts say that Arab regimes seen as being in collusion or supporting the siege and massacres, such as the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, will not be unscathed by the popular anger towards these policies.

Palestinian firemen try to extinguish a fire following an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, 27 December 2008. (Hatem Omar/MaanImages)

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